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The Kentucky Beefsteak Tomato

If ever there was an heirloom tomato that made delayed gratification worth the wait, it’s the Kentucky Beefsteak tomato. Huge, gorgeous, and delicious, this enormous two-pounder is a late-season tomato with the sweetest heirloom flavor you’ve ever tasted. You don’t want to miss out on this one!

If you’re not familiar with this tomato, then keep reading to learn about the Kentucky Beefsteak tomato. Chances are, you’ll want to grow these generously-sized tomatoes in your own garden this spring.

Closeup of a large yellow-orange heirloom tomato similar to the Kentucky Beefsteak tomato.

History of the Kentucky Beefsteak Tomato

As with most heirloom varieties, Kentucky Beefsteak tomatoes been around so long that the history sometimes gets forgotten. We know the Kentucky beefsteak tomato likely originated in eastern Kentucky, as its name implies. But that’s about as far back as our history goes.

Characteristics of the Kentucky Beefsteak Tomato

Kentucky Beefsteak tomatoes are a deep orange color and are indeterminate, which means their vines keep growing and they keep producing fruit until the first frost kills the plants in the fall. They’re also heirloom tomatoes, which means they come from seeds with the same genetic material that has existed for at least 100 years (versus hybrid tomatoes that were more recently produced by breeding for certain features). Heirlooms also tend to grow very large and have interesting shapes.

Closeup of green, unripe heirloom tomatoes growing on the vine.
Young, unripe heirloom tomatoes on the vine.

Ripening Season

Kentucky Beefsteaks are late-season tomatoes, with fruit maturing 85-90 days after transplanting.

Tomato Qualities

Kentucky Beefsteak tomatoes have a sweet, fruity taste.

Tomato Size

Like most heirloom tomato varieties, these tend to reach 14-18 ounces in size. Solid 2+ pounders.

Child holding a large yellow-orange heirloom tomato.

Planting Zones

Kentucky beefsteak tomatoes flourish best in zones 2-10.

Size and Spacing

Each plant grows 6-8 feet tall, so plants should be spaced 2-3 feet apart to prevent the vines from stealing sunlight from each other and ultimately reducing your tomato yield.

Pollination

Kentucky Beefsteak tomatoes are open-pollinated, which means the seeds they grew from resulted from the natural pollination of the parent plant. This also means that if you plant seeds from your beefsteak tomatoes in your garden next year, they’ll look and taste the same as your first generation of tomatoes. This is another trait of heirloom tomatoes, unlike hybrid tomatoes, whose seeds won’t result in the same plant you originally planted.

Plant Care

The following sections will provide highlights about tomato care. For a complete guide on optimal tomato plant care, from planting to harvesting and storage, please check out our article on How To Grow Tomatoes: The Complete Guide For the Best Tomatoes.  You may also be interested in our blog post on how to grow big tomatoes!

Sunlight

Full sun (at least six hours) is ideal for Kentucky Beefsteak tomatoes.

Three large bright orange heirloom tomatoes on the vine.

Soil

Kentucky Beefsteak tomatoes are most fragile when you transfer them from their indoor flats to the outside soil. Working in some compost and/or organic soil into the planting area before planting gives your tomato plants their best shot at thriving.

Water

One to two inches of water per week is ideal for Kentucky Beefsteak tomatoes.

Fertilizer

One pound per one-hundred square feet per week is a good rule to go by for Kentucky Beefsteak tomato fertilizing frequency.

Tomatoes require specific nutrients (such as calcium) to produce their best crops of fruit. To learn how to determine what your tomatoes need and when they need it, consult our ultimate tomato fertilizer guide.

Pruning/Pinching

There is no need to prune or pinch these tomato plants. Because of the immense weight of their fruit, however, they should at least be staked, if not caged. A tomato cage is the best plan to keep these enormous fruits from weighing the vines down and causing damage.

A tomato cage surrounding a tomato plant.

Disease

One thing scientists breed for as they develop hybrid tomatoes is disease resistance. Unfortunately, since Kentucky Beefsteak tomatoes are an original, non-hybrid variety, they are more likely to suffer from diseases than some other tomato types.

Fusarium Wilt

Fusarium wilt is caused by a fungus, which breaks into your tomato plants through injuries in the stem, leaves, or fruit. It then travels throughout the plant and feeds off the plant’s nutrients to help itself grow. The stem and leaves will begin to wilt sometimes from the bottom up if this disease gets ahold of your tomatoes.

To confirm that your tomato plant has suffered from an infection, take the dead stem and cut it longways. If there are black streaks running up the stem, then there’s a good chance it was fusarium wilt. Unfortunately, there is no way to treat your plants for this disease. To prevent it in the future, plant tomatoes in a different area of your garden if possible, or consider taking a couple of years off of planting tomatoes to give the pathogen time to die in the soil. Also, wash gardening gloves and sanitize trowels, pruners, stakes, and cages before using them again, as the pathogen can live on items for some time.

To learn how to detect, treat, and take steps to prevent diseases, read our tomato diseases guide.

Closeup of a tomato plant with powdery mildew.
Tomato with powdery mildew.

Pests

Aphids

These little creatures are just the worst. They’re so small that they’re nearly microscopic, but they come in numbers and they destroy plants seemingly overnight.

If you notice that your tomato plant leaves begin disappearing, find one that’s still there and flip it over. Odds are you’ll find a little clan of aphids feasting away in the shade of the leaf’s underside. Unfortunately, because aphids are so small, they’re hard to get rid of. You’d have to crush the leaf, too, if you tried to smash the bugs.

But the good news is that you have an ally. Ladybugs are friendly, easy to buy on Amazon, and love to eat aphids. Grab yourself a few hundred of these pretty predators online and set them free in your garden. They’ll happily control your aphid population right away.

Tomato Hornworms

These guys are the opposite of aphids: huge and impossible to miss. At least they get that way pretty quickly. They’re the larvae, or caterpillars, of a moth, and they love tomato plants so much that it’s in their name.

Unfortunately, they’re too enormous of ladybugs to take on, but they’re big enough that you can pick them up yourself. Throw on a pair of garden gloves if they gross you out and pluck them off your tomato vines. To dispose of them most usefully, throw them in your chicken coop or give a few to your pet bearded dragon if you happen to have one. If you don’t have any animals that could benefit from eating the worms, then you can throw them in some soapy water to finish them off.

For information to help you spot, eliminate, and deter 15 different pests, visit our guide on common tomato pests.

When to Harvest Kentucky Beefsteak Tomatoes

Kentucky Beefsteak tomatoes are ready for harvesting about 85-90 days after planting.

Overhead view of bright orange heirloom tomatoes.

Common Uses For Kentucky Beefsteak Tomatoes

What Does This Tomato Taste Like?

The Kentucky Beefsteak tomato is one of the sweetest heirloom tomatoes in existence, prized for its fruity sweetness.

Cooking

This tomato is a sweet addition to soups and tomato sauces.

Eating Raw

The common consensus is that the Kentucky Beefsteak tomato is tastiest when sliced onto a sandwich. It’s also great as a sweetener for salsa or as a bright yellow-orange pop to add more color to a salad.

A yellow-orange tomato cut in half.

Canning / Freezing / Drying

All of these preservation methods are acceptable for the Kentucky Beefsteak tomato.

Recipe Ideas

Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta

Heirloom Tomato Salad

Heirloom Tomato Toast with Feta

Overhead view of tomato tart made with yellow-orange colored tomatoes.

Health Benefits of Kentucky Beefsteak Tomatoes

Beefsteak tomatoes contain an antioxidant called lycopene, which can help promote bone health and prevent bone loss. Beefsteak tomatoes are also low in calories and helpful in weight loss because they can make you feel like you ate a lot when you didn’t actually have many calories.

Where to Buy Kentucky Beefsteak Tomato Plants or Seeds

Kentucky Beefsteak tomato seeds are available on Amazon. The plants, on the other hand, are harder to come by. Check with your local garden store or farmers market to see if they have any of these tomato plants available for sale.

Where to Buy Kentucky Beefsteak Tomatoes

Unfortunately, grocery stores don’t usually carry heirloom tomatoes because they aren’t as well suited to mass production as hybrid tomatoes. So check with your local farmer’s market or organic food co-op and see if they have fresh Kentucky beefsteak tomatoes you can purchase.

Pile of picked yellow-orange heirloom tomatoes.

Wrapping Up the Kentucky Beefsteak Tomato

It’s huge, it’s bright orange-yellow, and it’s sweetly delicious. What’s not to love?

Assorted colored heirloom tomatoes.

Do you grow Kentucky Beefsteak tomatoes in your garden? If so, tell us about your experience with these tasty behemoths in the comments section below! To read about other kinds of interesting (and mouth-watering) tomatoes, click here for our tomato blog posts.